13.7: Cosmos And Culture
9:48 am
Wed July 4, 2012

The Road To Independence Runs Through The Classroom

Political independence was won by our forefathers. Today it is education that sets people and nations free; the fight is ongoing. With science education, we win on three fronts when we mint new engineers, research scientists and mathematicians:

1. The individual: giving him/her the ability to think critically about some of the most pressing issues of our times, from climate change to alternative energy resources

2. Communities: preparing a generation of socially mindful citizens, willing to work together for the common good

3. The nation: nurturing the technical ability and creativity to foster innovation and technological leadership

Unfortunately, American science education is in crisis. As David Plotz recently noted in a piece for Slate, "In 2010, only 4.9 percent of American jobs were in science and engineering, down from 5.3 percent in 2000 — the first such decline since 1950."

There is a shortage of engineers to fill all the available jobs. Although the quality of American engineering graduates is higher than in India or China, the numbers are lower than what is needed, even if it could be worse.

An aggravating issue is that many graduates don't remain in engineering, opting for higher paying jobs in finance. And then there is the issue of attracting more women and minorities to technical fields.

So, how can the quality of American science education improve? During June, Slate has run a popular forum on possible solutions. Is it due to the poor separation of church and state? Is it due to poor school resources? Boring pedagogy? Generalized science illiteracy? Here are some of the selected proposals.

How would you try to remedy the problem (or problems)?

You can keep up with more of what Marcelo is thinking on Facebook and Twitter @mgleiser.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.